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ColombiaColombia: A Concise Contemporary History
By Michael J. LaRosa, Rhodes Associate Professor of History, and Germán R. Mejía, Professor of History, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 288 pp. $34.99

Written by two leading historians, this deeply informed and accessible book traces the history of Colombia thematically, covering the past two centuries. In 10 interlinked chapters, the authors depart from more standard approaches by presenting a history of political, social and cultural accomplishments within the context of Colombia’s specific geographic and economic realities. Their emphasis on cultural development, international relations and everyday life contrasts sharply with works that focus only on Colombia’s violent past or dwell on a Colombian economy deeply dependent on narcotics—a tragic nation that barely functions. Rather, the authors emphasize Colombia’s remarkable national cohesion and endurance since the early 19th-century wars for independence.

Including a photo essay, detailed chronology and resource guide, this concise yet thorough history offers a thoughtful, definitive interpretation of Colombia’s past and present.

 

The Book of MischiefThe Book of Mischief, New & Selected Stories
By Steve Stern ’70, Professor of English, Skidmore College. St. Paul: Graywolf Press. 384 pp, $26

The Book of Mischief showcases 25 years of outstanding work by a master of the short story. Steve Stern’s stories take us from the old Jewish quarter of the Pinch in Memphis to a turn-of-the-century immigrant community in New York; from the market towns of Eastern Europe to a down-at-the-heels Catskills resort. Along the way we meet a motley assortment of characters: Mendy Dreyfus, whose bungee jump goes uncannily awry; Elijah the prophet turned voyeur; and the misfit Zelik Rifkin, who discovers the tree of dreams. Kafka’s cockroach also makes an appearance. The earthbound take flight, the meek turn incendiary, the powerless find unwonted fame. Weaving his particular brand of mischief from the wondrous and the macabre, Stern transforms us all through the power of his brilliant imagination.

 

The RavineThe Ravine
By James Williamson ’68, Associate Professor of Architecture, University of Memphis. Santa Fe: Sunstone Press. 260 pp. $24.95

In 1958, 13 year-old Harry Polk is looking forward to an idyllic summer spent visiting his Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Horace in Tuckalofa, MS. Harry soon learns that beneath its placid surface, the town is not what it seems.

Before the summer is over he will encounter the violence and injustice of a segregated society, intolerance of religious and social class differences and closely guarded family secrets. When a popular young black man is brutally murdered by the county sheriff, Harry, Cordelia and Horace will be caught up in a series of events culminating in an act of revenge that leaves Harry emotionally scarred.

Years later, when Harry is summoned to Tuckalofa to arrange the funeral of his formidable Aunt Cordelia, he is forced to confront the past that has lain dormant for years—a past in which he found himself embroiled in the vicious crime that had tragic consequences for the entire town.

The book evokes a South during the early years of the civil rights movement where a complex mixture of love and hate, ignorance and enlightenment and guilt and innocence coexist.

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